In her eyes, a faint sense of her youth but the burden on her head, asymmetrical and not in tune with the paling glint in her eyes. She paused for a second as if unaware of her compass and then suddenly turned to us.
“Bugulehn Nana?…damaa jaaiye nana”.
She spoke with a voice that spooked me out. She had cut our conversation even as we had seen this same scene play before us time without number, but this time just pulled at the wrong strings. I apologized for not needing any. It was the least I could do as it was already close to 5pm and her plate was still full. I was scared for her. She had found herself in the quiet side of town and ironically the side of town where paedophiles and “sickos” lurk. In my head, I knew she was trapped…lost to the evil of the streets…her scars shone not so bright.
The next day, at the same spot which has now become what my friends like to call my second job (which it is certainly not!!) it was a group this time. The oldest would be nothing more than 10 years old and they claimed to be siblings. The youngest one had a faded blue plastic cup in hand shaking it furiously at us as if to awaken our consciences. Instinctively I dipped my hand in my pocket and found coins which added up to a meagre 6 dalasis and dropped it in the cup. As they tried to leave, I found myself doing something I very frequently do.
“Ana sehn yaye?”…I find I impulsively ask for their mothers. I cannot remember ever asking for their fathers. I believe I am programmed to accept that their father has another 2 wives, only cares for his stomach, is avoiding the heat of the sun and unfortunately (or fortunately?) has a wife who does all to feed him (including put her own children at risk)
“Mungi Jumaa Pipeline,” they answered in unison. It sounded rehearsed to me but I couldn’t force the truth out of them. They were already in enough pain walking around barefooted and possibly wondering why they had to struggle so hard when people like me were seated at restaurants spending a fortune on a meal…or maybe they didn’t care where or what I ate…or maybe they were actually too tired to even notice.
I felt helpless as I watched them drag their tiny, but flattened out feet on the concrete slab by the side. These children were doomed! I saw no future for them and I was in no position to help them. They were few of many. Sitting in my little corner, at least four sets would come by asking for change. They were accompanied by no one! Their mothers were all at Jumaa Pipeline for some odd reason. It was as if their mothers were part of some secret society that had their meetings by the masjid.
We are a nation that has been giving much. It is the reason for our laissez-faire attitude towards everything important. Our gift is, simply put, our curse. I can understand a prostitute standing on the Bertil Harding Highway on a cold December night being picked up by a man I recognize to be pious and strict. It is not a hypothetical. I saw this with my very own eyes. Prostitution might be illegal (I would need to check with my law volumes) but the objective side of me can understand such a business transaction. A grown woman, making a decision to “sell her wares” or in this case “rent” to a grown man who usually pretends to not need them is understandable. Like a somewhat confused (or is he mad) acquaintance of mine once said in a one-way conversation, “chaga amut…gaai denjoor business, di nju xeetali, di nju sutura tekk si”. It is a tough job to do but… I can understand a woman putting her reputation on the line to feed her family.
I know a blind man who walks around in the evening with her daughter also seeking alms. I know she goes to school during the day and walks her father around in the evening. It is a tough situation to accept but such is inevitable. I do not know his story. I assume his wife also works to feed them or maybe that is just me being a little too rational about things and a tad sympathetic towards a woman I do not know…or maybe, just maybe I cannot seem to fathom the thought of a woman abandoning her blind husband and young daughter (or have women not done worse?)
I am sick and tired of talking about our “useless men” and how little they care for their families. There are still a lot of good men out there who take care of their wives and children no matter the circumstance or situation they live in. I know a man who works two jobs as a “garden boy” and a “fitter”, has but one wife because that’s all he can afford and makes sure his three children have an education. Still you’d be surprised to find a beggar on the streets with two wives and ten children all employed in his trade of begging to live or rather, living to beg! This essay is however not for the “useless man”. He has taken up enough of my time and energy and refuses to change. This is about the mothers!
That all mothers are loving and dedicated to protecting their children is a myth! We were raised to believe that so much that it is embedded in our psyche. I have lived for long enough however to dispute that fact. I have seen mothers use their children for their own selfish gain. They have sold their daughters off indirectly by placing them in harm’s way just for an extra buck or have sold them off directly to the highest bidder knowing fully well that the man has a history of neglecting his countless wives and even physically abusing them. Sunj pareeh nju ne “munjal dorm”.
I have seen some selfish mothers! Nine months of pain only to have their children spend the rest of their lives repaying such a “favour” by sleeping with countless men just to pay their house bills whilst they turn a blind eye pretending to not be in the know. Worse still, have we not seen women that have actually prostituted their daughters whilst getting a large chunk of the “commission”?
Our society’s waters have been made murky by a rather ambitious desire for wealth from many a people without a talent to show or a skill to prove. It is unfortunate that we are raising too many women with too little brains. It is not their fault…the fault is ours, no?
Just as I have seen a woman almost lay down her life for her children, I have also seen a woman lay down her children’s lives for hers. How many women have we seen disregard their daughters complaints of sexual harassment from their step-fathers, teachers, uncles etc only to be silenced with the normal “dew sangam melut nonu…yow fenn rek”. Knowing fully well that all they seek is to protect their marriages or their relationships with these animals even at the cost of raising a battered girl who would never be a normal girl living a normal life, have they not turned a blind eye?
It is sad that our culture is one which encourages mothers to enquire on the wealth status of a suitor or his family background (mostly family name which no longer carries any significant weight anyway) than ask about the man himself, his character and his love for their daughter. Denj bugey ba yahu!
I hail all the women who still play positive roles as mothers. However, do not be fooled into thinking it is the same with all of them. I am no one to pass judgment but I have met mothers undeserving of the title. I have met many mothers whose main objective in life is to ensure that their daughters end up with men wealthier than their main rival’s daughters. That is all they seek in life. They do not want a business, or a degree, or a beautiful home, or the lottery jackpot. All they want is to say at a gathering, “suma dorm jekaram moye dew sangam, teh papam di koku nonu” whilst their daughters live their lives in misery under the stick of a man without manners.
So all these children selling nana on the streets, those begging on our highways, those marrying for money, those sleeping with men for Iphones at age 14, those forced to “spend time” with men that pay the bills, those raped and molested by their step-fathers and uncles whilst their cries for help go unnoticed, where are their mothers? Are they all orphans? Do they not have families? Did they come to be from the sky? There is more than one type of mother so be not fooled. Where some of us have been lucky, others have not. This cycle continues across generations unfortunately as most bad mothers will raise terrible daughters and the “useless men” will be forced to “select” wives from them. Imagine that concoction!!!
With Latirr Carr]]>